The Lantern Festival in Yasukuni Shrine
Mitama Matsuri is a lantern festival held each year in Yasukuni Shrine, located in Chiyoda ward in the heart of Tokyo. This four-day long celebration starting on July 13, attracts about 300,000 visitors, especially in the evening, with the light-up of thousands of lanterns and traditional dance performances.
First organized in 1947, Mitama Matsuri festival is part of the Obon celebrations in Tokyo. Obon is a period to honor the souls of the deceased, and Yasukuni Shrine is dedicated to the commemorations of soldiers who died for Japan. Despite Yasukuni Shrine’s nationalistic fame, the festival itself does not include political aspects, and focuses on traditional customs, in a relaxed atmosphere.
Mitami Matsuri’s popularity has grown among Japanese and foreign visitors. The shrine’s wide paths become crowded at nightfall, and those who are not comfortable with mass gatherings will best enjoy the place in the daytime, especially in the morning.
However, culmination of the festival happens at night, under the light of 30,000 hanging lanterns along the shrine’s main path, with various rituals such as:
- A parade of mikoshi portable shrines;
- Or Awa-odori dance performances.
Festival-goers dressed in yukata stroll in the shrine’s grounds and even try to dance, encouraged by dance troops performing on stage. Since 2015, drink and food stalls have been drastically reduced and alcohol consumption is strictly monitored in order to avoid any trouble. It helps keeping a relaxed atmosphere, with a genuine enthusiasm and children’s participation.
Mitama Matsuri is also a colorful festival, hued in golden yellow by the lanterns, red and blue with the dancers’ outfits and huge multicolored decorations, and one of the most beautiful for photographs in summer in Tokyo.